Shiawassee County Sheriff Douglas Chapman received preferential treatment when he was sentenced for a drunk driving arrest in 2018, an analysis of court records of other such arrests before the same judge during the same time frame shows.
The sentence and fines that Chapman received from 54-A District Judge Louise Alderson were significantly less than 11 others received from her who entered into plea deals for operating while intoxicated during the same period.
A City Pulse investigation into police reports and court records of 11 drivers who entered into guilty pleas before Alderson from December 2018 to June 2019 — when Chapman was facing charges — shows he received favorable treatment.
Alderson retired in January last year after 21 years on the bench. Efforts to reach her for comment have been unsuccessful.
Chapman was a road patrol sergeant at the time. He was appointed county sheriff last year to fill out the last two years of his predecessor’s four-year term.
Chapman’s blood alcohol level tested at .19%, which is considered “super drunk” under Michigan law. It was his first and only arrest.
A local attorney who worked as an assistant prosecutor for over a decade agreed to review all the reports for City Pulse. The attorney asked not to be identified so he could speak frankly about judicial decisions, since he is still practicing and was concerned about the reaction of judges. The attorney’s practice includes criminal law.
“I can tell you this is not a deal that would be available to you or me,” the attorney said of Chapman’s deal. “I think the bottom line here is that the common citizen would not be treated with the leniency that this public official was treated with.”
While Chapman received nine months of probation, he served only five. He was ordered to pay $685 in fines and $150 in probation fees for a total of $835.
But 10 of the 11 other individuals who entered into guilty pleas for the same crime during a six-month period when Chapman was involved with the court found themselves facing probation for as long as 18 months, with fees ranging from $1,084 to $2,051. The eleventh individual received a $360 fine but spent 60 days in jail as well.
Eight of the individuals identified were sentenced to jail for their crimes. Seven were sentenced to 93 days in jail, and one was sentenced to 60 days in jail. The jail time was on top of fines and fees.
Twelve cases of guilty pleas for OWI were identified by 54-A District Court Administrator Anethia Brewer. Using that information, City Pulse filed public records requests for police reports on each of the identified cases. One case was not used in the assessment because the individual was charged with and entered into a guilty plea for multiple crimes.
The individuals are not being identified to protect their privacy. Pre-sentence reports, which evaluate recommendations for probation and jail based on a person’s social, psychological and criminal history are not legally available for the public and therefore were not used in the comparisons.
Of the 11 cases, five people were white men, two were Black men, one a Hispanic woman and one a Black woman. In two cases, race was not identified in reports. The individuals ranged in age from 21 to 68. Blood alcohol levels in five of the cases were over .17% or higher. That’s the state’s “super drunk” level. The blood alcohol levels in five cases were unavailable in police reports or court records, although the original charges in four of those cases were for blood alcohol levels above .17%.
Super drunk is a felony in Michigan with automatic license suspensions for a year. After 45 days some individuals can qualify for a restricted license, but all vehicles they drive must have an ignition lock installed that requires a blood-alcohol-content test before the car can start. The equipment has to be installed at the individual’s expense.
The highest blood alcohol level in the cases was .278% according to reports. The 21-year-old Hispanic female who had that level was sentenced to 18 months’ probation and $1,460.28 in fines and fees.
The lowest was .085%. The 26-year-old Black man was sentenced to 60 days in jail and paid $360 in fines and fees. His license was also suspended, but records do not indicate how long the suspension was.
A 32-year-old Black man who had a blood alcohol level of .34 was sentenced to 18 months’ probation, 93 days in jail and fines and fees of $2,267.64. That’s the harshest sentence handed down by Alderson in the 11 cases.
In another case, a 24-year-old white man was sentenced to nine months of probation and $1,330.10 in fines and fees. He had an unknown blood alcohol level but was originally charged under the super drunk law.
In the case where a 45-year-old Hispanic male had a blood alcohol level of .233%, the man was sentenced to 93 days in jail, nine months of probation and $1,203.64 in fines and fees.
The only Black woman appearing in the reviewed records was charged under the super drunk law, meaning her blood alcohol level was over .17%, although records do not disclose her results. The 36-year-old woman was sentenced to 12 months of probation and fines and fees of $1,369.38.
Chapman’s story is one of getting break after break.
Chapman was arrested Oct. 9, 2018, by Michigan State troopers. MSP reported that Chapman, who was off duty at the time, was passed out at the wheel of his vehicle, which was in the middle of the entrance ramp to I-69 at M71, the Durand Corunna exit, around 1 a.m. His personal truck was still in gear. Two loaded handguns were in a luggage container on the front seat beside him.
He refused roadside sobriety tests at the scene, so he was arrested and taken to the Flint post, where he received his first break: He was not tested until two hours after troopers found him. Even so, he had a blood alcohol level of .19 and then .17 when measured within minutes of each other at the post shortly after 3 a.m. The legal limit is .08. Bowling Green State University Department of Recreation and Wellness reports that, on average, a person will lose .015 in blood alcohol content each hour. This means that when troopers found him passed out at the wheel, his level could have been as high as .20, significantly over the legal limit and well into the “super drunk” category adopted by the state Legislature in 2010.
Yet MSP troopers only sought a charge for operating while intoxicated — a charge below the state’s super drunk law, his second break.
After his arrest, Shiawassee County judges and the prosecutor recused themselves. The case was assigned to Ingham County Prosecutor Carol Siemon and to Alderson by state authorities. That is normal court procedure.
Chapman entered a guilty plea to operating while intoxicated, the lowest drunk driving offense in Michigan law, on Dec. 14, 2018. In addition to the probation and fines he paid, the Secretary of State’s Office reported that his license was restricted from Dec. 14, 2018, to March 15, 2019. Court records show Chapman’s restrictions allowed him to “drive to and from residence, place of and during employment, treatment and support group meetings, regularly scheduled treatment for serious medical conditions, probation, community service, and school, must carry proof of destinations and hours.”
His probation was served through Ingham County services rather than Shiawassee County programming, records show.
The attorney who helped City Pulse examine court cases said Chapman’s probation supervision being done in Ingham instead of Shiawassee County was “unusual,” as far as normal court operations. He said it was likely to prevent others from knowing of his arrest and conviction and keeping it from the public eye.
He said if he had represented Chapman, he would have asked the judge to assign probation to Ingham County rather than Shiawassee County “so nobody in government would know and none of the voters would know, and my client wouldn’t have to appear at probation with other people that his department has arrested.”
In a similar case three years later, then-Assistant Shiawassee County Prosecutor Chris Brown was charged with operating while intoxicated and two counts of possession of a firearm while impaired. The charges arose when Brown arrived at work two hours late and admitted to drinking. His blood test revealed an alcohol content of .14, nearly twice the legal limit, but not “super drunk.”
The case was brought by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s team. It resulted in a guilty plea on one count each of operating while impaired and possession of a firearm while impaired. He was ordered by 66th District Judge Ward Clarkson, a Shiawassee County judge who recused himself in the Chapman case, to pay a $1,500 fine. Brown had already moved out of the state and licensing officials in Michigan had intervened with “intensive probation” to keep his law license.
Carol Siemon, who was the Ingham County prosecutor at the time, has since retired. She said she did not recall Chapman’s case. Her replacement is John Dewane. When City Pulse reached out to him earlier this year to explain the differences in the sentencing, here’s how he responded:
“You have compared this case to another — one prosecuted by another agency — where there were both similar and unique characteristics,” Dewane wrote in an email. “While each case has its own circumstances, I believe the sanctions were equivalent relative to the conduct and the evidence. Also, the plea and sentence were consistent with charging and sentencing policies under Prosecutor Carol Siemon.”
“Police are subject to the same laws as the rest of us,” Dewane said. “When a conflict of interest exists, the best practice is to provide for an outside agency to review and prosecute these cases. I believe that each of these principles were handled satisfactorily on this case.”
Shiawassee County Prosecutor Scott Koerner said in response to a public records request that Chapman did not testify in any drunk driving cases during his time on probation. His arrest and subsequent guilty plea are not required to be disclosed to the defense, he said.
“I would certainly want to know,” said the attorney who helped City Pulse. “I probably couldn’t use it in court, but I would want to know about it in a case and as a defense counsel.”
In an interview with City Pulse last year, Ingham County Circuit Judge Rosemarie Aquilina called the Chapman case a “sweetheart” deal. The former assistant prosecutor helping City Pulse agreed with Aquilina’s assessment.
“Frankly, I would be shocked as his attorney with the plea bargain that he got,” the former prosecutor said. “I would be shocked that I was so successful.”
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